Carlton notches another Hardrock finish | SteamboatToday.com

Carlton notches another Hardrock finish

Will Carlton runs during the Hardrock Hundred Mile Run

— There's a place in the middle of the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run, somewhere high in Southern Colorado's San Juan Mountains, where Steamboat Springs ultramarathoner Will Carlton said a dark thought occurred.

"I started telling myself, 'Maybe I need a year off,'" he said on Monday from Steamboat.

It's so difficult getting into the race that once a runner is selected, it's nearly impossible to say no, and against all odds, Carlton's name was drawn from the runners' lottery three consecutive years.

He felt extremely lucky to get in once and even luckier to get in twice. When his name was chosen again this year? He was beside himself, even feeling bad for those who continue to apply but don't get a chance.

Midway through the race, however, he was ready to give someone else an opportunity.

It's no wonder why.

Recommended Stories For You

The Hardrock is about as tough as it gets when it comes to 100-mile ultramarathons. There is 33,392 feet of climbing on a trail that zigs and zags and climbs and descends through the steep, rocky, picturesque peaks around Telluride, Ouray and Silverton, where the start and finish of the event is located.

It's so much more than the miles or the vertical, however.

Bodies do funny things when you ask them to run that far, that hard. A year ago, the race simply gutted Carlton. He barely ate on the second half of the course and it took all he had just to finish.

He tried to figure out why and what he could do better, but settled on it being more of an experience problem than anything. He set out this year intent on using his high-mountain knowhow to keep his body healthier, and he did.

Through the early portions of the race, he was thrilled with his performance.

But, somewhere between the snowfall and the thunderstorms, the persistent heavy rain and the unending trail, that changed.

"You get halfway through the race and you're telling yourself, 'I hope I don't get in next year,'" he said. "Hardrock breaks everyone."

It wasn't ever that he thought he'd quit, he said. He has such a respect for the event, such a love for the community around it, he was determined to crawl the final 40 or 50 miles, if necessary.

He downed a glass of apple juice at an aid station, however, and his energy came rushing back.

He had friends and family working support and fellow Steamboat runners like Cara Marrs with him on the trail, pacing. That and the apple juice and all the work he'd put in leading up to the race kicked in and he bounded across the next segment of the trail.

In the end, he finished in 39 hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds, four hours faster than he'd done it in 2014.

Carlton said the ups and downs of such a race still astonish even him, but somehow, that's what keeps him coming back.

"The main thing about the race, everyone's going to go through some tough times," he said. "You go from the point where you're dead in the water and feeling like you will crawl all the way to Silverton to being back and feeling great, where my pacer and I were having a blast and you're thinking, 'I wouldn't trade this for the world.'"

The lows are low, Carlton said, but the highs, those are what keeps him coming back, and what, if he somehow gets his name drawn again, will have him excited to run.

"Of course I'll be back," he said. "You just have to do it. … This is a race that's gotten into my blood and I definitely look forward to it."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9