Mueller moves his feet for 44 hours
Vail, CO Colorado
Anywhere in the world, 100 miles is a long distance to run.
But when those 100 miles include 33,992 feet of climbing at an average elevation of 11,017 feet and are run in less than two days, well, 100 miles can seem like 1,000.
Sunday, Markus Mueller, of Avon, became part of one of most grueling century clubs when he completed the Hardrock 100.
Mueller, who ran in the Salida Marathon and 50-mile races in Fruita and Los Alamos, N.M., as warmups for the Hardrock, came in at 44 hours, 33 minutes and 23 seconds.
“I do ultra races every year, even the Leadville (100-mile) race,” Mueller said “But this is a very big race. I trained really seriously.”
Training, however, won’t get you a spot at the starting line. Before Mueller could begin his preparation, he had to rely on a little bit of luck.
“They only had 130 slots, and 400 people applied,” Mueller said. “They have a very complicated lottery system to make it as fair as possible.”
Previous racers get preference in the lottery, and the organizers also check past race results and entries of all applicants.
On Feb. 2, Mueller, 43, found out he’d been given a spot in the race.
“On that same day, I started my training,” Mueller said. “I ran up Beaver Creek Mountain.”
Mueller would ascend Beaver Creek 11 more times ” just part of his training regiment ” before he headed to Silverton for the Hardrock.
“The first time down I took the lift,” Mueller said. “(After that) I ran down to get used to the steep stuff.”
Mueller, who moved to Avon from Nuremberg, Germany, last year, had heard of the Hardrock long before coming over.
“There was another German runner who moved to Colorado and he wrote in a German running magazine, and I always had (the Hardrock) on my list, but it was so far away and so difficult to get into,” Mueller said. “I never really thought about getting in.”
When Mueller came to Colorado, he had little experience running on trails.
“I’m a long distance runner but only on roads,” Mueller said. “It’s a totally different ballgame.”
For Mueller, the uphill sections weren’t as much of an adjustment as the downhill parts.
“I was for sure the slowest on the (downhill),” he said of the Hardrock.
But Mueller did everything he could to prepare for the race, clocking more than 170 miles and ascending about 130,000 feet of altitude.
“I stopped counting miles because it’s difficult,” Mueller said. “You go slow because you are going up the mountain. That was the most important thing ” going high up and running down.”
The Hardrock started in Silverton (9,317 feet), looped through 13 mountain passes higher than 13,000 feet and finished in Silverton.
Dispersed throughout the trek were 13 aid stations, and at five stations participants could pre-stock dry clothes and their own food.
Mueller usually eats bananas and other solid food while running long distances, but had to go with liquids and power gel.
“At that altitude, you can’t really eat anything,” Mueller said.
Although Mueller didn’t get headaches or altitude sickness, he had some trouble on the descents.
“I fell two times,” he said. “One time it was on an easy section, and the other on a rocky section but I had good advice from one of the top runners (who said to) wear gloves. It was weird, but it was useful for trail running.”
Mueller gave some advice of his own during the race to a runner named Billy Simpson who wanted to quit at the next aid station.
“I was next to him at Andy’s Peak and I told him, ‘Take a longer break and go on.’ Later, he flew by me and was really happy I convinced him to stay in the race,” Mueller said.
Since 1992, in the 14 years the race has occurred (in 1995 there was too much snow, and in 2002 there were too many wildfires), about 55 percent of the competitors have finished in the allotted time. This year, 74 percent came in under the 48-hour limit. The thought of not finishing never crossed Mueller’s mind.
“Mentally, I’m a very strong runner,” he said. “If I apply for a race, I’ll do it. Quitting is not an option. It’s not even a word.
“There are about 1,000 reasons to stop. In an ultra race, it’s all about the mental part,” he said.
Mueller’s finish didn’t come without some pain.
“Six or eight blisters, and I’ll loose two toenails,” Mueller said. “But it’s my fault because I didn’t tape my feet. I put Vaseline on my feet weeks before so they are as smooth as possible. The problem is you have to cross 25 creeks, and there is no chance of staying dry.”
Through the pain, Mueller was able to enjoy parts of the 100-mile trek.
“The scenery was so spectacular,” he said. “You are in the remote wilderness and nobody is there.”
Mueller would do the race again next year, he said, adding that he hopes to be lucky enough to earn a spot from the lottery. If you see Mueller running up Beaver Creek in February, you can bet he’s in.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.