The Road Back to Hardrock – Part Two

For those of us who read yesterday’s instalment, we’re following the journey of Andy Hewat, long time ultra runner here on Aussie shores and one of the most experienced over at Hardrock as far as the Aussie contingent is concerned. We focused on Andy’s battle with AF, which saw him drop from the 2011 Hardrock and after an absence of five years, Andy’s name was pulled out of the hat for another crack. Today, Andy’s let us in on some of his training as he approaches Hardrock with just ten days to go.

Given that my 3 finishes at Hardrock have all been really tough and each time I have come close to capitulating, I am definitely not taking anything for granted this time around. Add to that my dodgy back (still limits my downhill freedom), my nagging patello-femoral joint (I notice I had it taped back in 2010 as well), the fact that I am now well into my 50s compared to 40s for the last 3, and not the least my heart issues, and well, I am not overly confident of how this will go.

So, to realign the odds somewhat back in my favour, I have changed a few things this time.

Pacer: I don’t normally use a pacer. I have had an impromptu pacer join me from Cunningham to the finish both times in this direction (2008 and 2010). The first was a great help. The second slowed me down until I dropped him on the climb. I have heard horror stories. But have also seen how much they can help a runner (no muling of course). So I bit the bullet and I have engaged the assistance of Russ Valdez, a total stranger who put his name on the Hardrock website dating service for pacers/runners to meet. Essential criteria: experience on the course (he has paced 6 times at HR). I have no idea how well we will get along and as Russ said, it is a bit like picking up a hitch-hiker, you never know what you are going to get. But I have a good feeling about him so I am sure it will work out great.

Training: I have done 2 things differently this time. While my weekly mileage is comparable to previous HRs, I have included far more long runs this time. I have aimed for a 40-50km weekly run. Preferably on hilly trail. These have generally been around 6-8hrs long. Plus a couple longer.


The other difference to my training is it has nearly all been done fully fasted. Yep, nothing to eat before or during the run. I now regularly get up and go out fasted and cover up to 9 hours without any calorie intake (since around 11pm the previous night). The reason for this is I always suffer from nausea for long, long periods at HR. Meaning I can’t take on any calories. Meaning I bonk, and struggle with lack of energy. Now I have forced my body to seek out fat for fuel and it is working.

The added bonus is I have shed around 6 kilos of body fat (aided by cutting intake of simple sugars and some refined carbs and increasing my fat intake). Less weight to carry up those big climbs. Hopefully, this means when the altitude turns my stomach sour I can maintain momentum until it comes good or I reach the next checkpoint. Hopefully both.

Counter to this, I am arriving a week later for acclimatisation but I couldn’t avoid that. Here’s hoping all the positive changes carry more weight. Did I mention I this one could be tough?

Now back in Silverton, I can feel the difference in altitude coming from sea-level to 9,000+feet or over 3,000m. Very hard to sleep and it got very cold overnight. I am checking my pulse and O2 saturation levels in the morning. As much a curiosity as to help gauge how my body (read heart) is coping and adapting.

Yesterday in Durango at around 6,000ft it was 97% and 67bpm and I’m very happy with that. My resting pulse has never come down much from around 80bpm after the surgery. My cardiologist suggested that was my new norm given all the scar tissue in there now. So to be in the 60s is a really good sign. The sats are OK.

First morning in Silverton I am at 90% and 65bpm. Which is a good starting point. But a bit headachy still. Which is always hard to tell how much is lack of sleep after a 30hr transit and then poor sleep on arrival.

I usually take it pretty easy with an easy run/hike of 8km or so. But I usually have 3 weeks of acclimatisation (or acclimation as the locals prefer to call it). With just under 2 weeks I need to maximise my opportunities. After a rough night of little sleep due to a combination of altitude, time zone shift, and being cold, I headed out early on what will be the last part of my journey, along Beaver Lake trail.


The old ‘original’ (I think there may have been an earlier iteration) that split in 2 around 2009 due to water freezing in the drill holes and expanding, has been cemented back together and put on display under a little pergola. It is a fitting shrine for such an historic symbol of the race.

Next door is another shrine to the Silverton 6 day/1000 mile race. I’m not kidding. There is a short loop trail that goes up and around the small ski hill, the Kendall Trail. This is the site of the annual 6 day race. Wow. Unbelievable. The shrine is really cool, with an historic miners trolley on a short section of train track. Welded on the side is a metal plate emblazoned with the race logo.

The trail was magical. The early morning sun streamed down between the tall spruce, creating little clouds of steam where it hit the wet ground. The little beaver dam was a mirror of the blue sky and patchy low clouds. It was truly therapeutic hiking and running through the forest in the early morning light with the trees still dripping from the night’s rain. The scent was what I imagine those air fresheners are trying to replicate. Except this was the real thing. Drink it in.

I made it easily to Arrastra Creek. It was flowing strong and clear. I thought about turning back but felt good so waded into the shin deep torrent. Oh my dog, I had forgotten how cold these mountain streams were.

Joining the jeep road on the other side I spotted my first Hardrock course marker. Makes it very real. I followed the jeep road up, up until a junction I wasn’t sure about (no markings here for reverse direction). I went right but should have gone left. I wasn’t overly concerned, I just wanted time on my feet in the mountains and I got to explore the valley to the east of the one the course follows.

I turned around when I hit 3,600 metres in view of the pass ominously perched at the head of the valley. I am not sure if there is even a navigable pass up there but I could see where it should be. All up around 17km+ in about 4.5hrs and I felt good.

Now, the countdown continues.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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