Take 5: Ultra-running with High Lonesome 100 winner (and non-runner) Hannah Taylor
August 15, 2017
Hannah Taylor simply loves spending hours and hours and hours in the mountains. If she happens to win a race at the same time? That's even better.
On July 28, the 38-year-old Summit Nordic Ski Club coach and longtime local did just that when she ambled over the finish line at the High Lonesome 100 Miler, an ultra-endurance race across the peaks, valleys and forest surrounding Salida. She finished in 29 hours and 59 minutes — less than a minute under her pre-race goal — to take the inaugural women's title at the first-year trail race.
Oh, and it also just so happened to be the first overall win of her life. Not bad for a day in the mountains.
"I'm not out just to race, just to get bibs on," Taylor told me on a quiet, drizzly August day over coffee in Frisco. "That was never the idea. It was all about spending big days in the mountains."
Taylor might love big days in the mountains, but 100 straight miles is about her threshold. Since moving to Summit County in 2004, the New Hampshire native has competed in three or four 50-kilometer races and three 100 milers, including the fabled Leadville Trail 100 (this year on Aug. 19).
"How'd you feel at the end?" I asked her about High Lonesome, where she beat the next-closest female runner, Ivy Lefebvre of Silverthorne, by more than two hours.
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"You finish on a climb up that road that leads to the (Mount Pinceton) Hot Springs," she started after explaining how her personal goal was 30 hours flat. "I had about nine minutes left to finish, and I just burst into tears. Going uphill on pavement, my knees were hurting and I was just starting to fall apart."
But they didn't, and that's why Hannah won. In those final hundreds of yards, she "shut down my brain and pain entirely and said, 'I'm going to do everything I can right now to finish.'"
In the low months between ultra-running season and the start of Nordic training, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Taylor to talk about the High Lonesome win, her love-hate relationship with ultra-running and how 30 hours on the trail compares to 72 (or more) at the next big challenge: adventure racing.
Summit Daily News: Before we get into ultra-running, let's talk adventure racing. You did your first event — and won — earlier this summer with two other Nordic coaches. What was it like?
Hannah Taylor: It was great. It was really different to be out with a team, compared to being out by yourself, and doing different sports is a totally different thing.
SDN: Was it what you expected?
HT: I didn't know what to expect, so I just went into it with a completely open mind, saying, "I'm going to ride my bike, I'm going to be on foot, I'm going to be in the middle of nowhere." You don't really know what the course is going to be until the night before, so you can't really plan ahead for how long you'll be on foot or bike. Getting ready for the transitions was something I was concerned about. I can go once I get going, but I don't have much experience switching from sport to sport.
SDN: I've interviewed your teammates, Olof and Whitney Hedberg, and that's what they say — preparation is key.
HT: For this race they're doing now (Adventure Racing World Series in Wyoming), it's days and days and days long. They have more logistics information ahead of time, so they can prepare for this many bike or this many trek legs, but the 24-hour races aren't that lucky. I think we got the maps at 4 p.m. when we were starting the race at 8 a.m., and that's the first time you know what you're getting into, whereas with long-distance running races, you obsess over the route for months. You look at that maps thinking, "I know I need to get ready for this climb or this long stretch," or whatever, and you look at that for a long time. But it was fun to have that twist on it.
SDN: What drew you to the High Lonesome 100?
HT: These long-distance races have gotten so silly competitive. I was in the lottery for a couple other races (this summer) and didn't get in, but this one was just sign up and come run. I saw it posted early on, thought it looked cool — it was also pretty close — so I figured I'd give it a try.
SDN: What races did you want to run in but didn't make the lottery?
HT: The big one was Hardrock, then there were a couple others that are smaller races but still fill up so quick. It's crazy how many people want to run these races. There's a finite number of these races available, which was cool about this High Lonesome 100. They did a great job with it and I think people are going to come to it now.
SDN: What makes you personally want to come back to a long race like this?
HT: The race director and his committee — I don't know what they call themselves — they're experienced runners and they paid attention to details. The aid stations were well placed, the volunteers were amazing (pause). They just have this brutal job to be at an aid station from the first person to the last, and the spread between those can be eight hours sometimes, sometimes more. They're there all night, all day, and it can be hard to organize a race that long because of what you need from people.
The most important thing was the course and they had a great course. It was challenging and it was also raining. I hear it's beautiful — the views are probably great when it's not rainy.
SDN: What kind of runner are you? Like, would you rather run in the rain or run in the sun?
HT: I'm not a runner. I like being in the mountains and I like moving through the mountains, but I would not consider myself a runner and this was not a runner's course. This was a climbing course. That's why I think I did well. My watch died toward the end of the race so I didn't get final stats — I had a freak-out about that — but the directors' were claiming something like 22,000 feet of vert. It was the most I'd ever done in a race, but that was the idea. More climbing is definitely better for me, and almost no pavement — also really good.
SDN: How did this compare to your very first 100?
HT: The first one I did was Leadville and that was a great intro for me. It was nearby, I could pre-run all of it, but the expectation on that course is that you run it the whole time. That's doable if you're ready, but I wasn't ready (laughs). The expectation at the High Lonesome was not really to run the whole thing. I'm sure there are mountain goats who can do that, but really, if you're just moving consistently the whole time you'll do fine. The winning guys did it in under 24 hours, so they were moving pretty fast.
SDN: What was the competition like for this new race?
HT: I think it will become a more competitive race as time goes on. There were definitely good people there, but there weren't big names there. There was one guy in the guy's field who is a pretty big deal, but I think this will grow. It was a lot of locals who were in the same boat as me — they wanted to do a mountain race and this was a great one to start with. (There were) also a lot of people from the Front Range and people from way out of town who suffered through the altitude.
SDN: Thinking back on the route, what was the toughest part?
HT: I didn't go and run any of it. I intended to, but time just ran out. I felt prepared though. There were a couple of sections we hit at night, so I don't really know where they are, but I was thinking, "This is really steep." You would see these headlamps high, high above you, but also really close, like they were winding up a ledge. Those headwall sections made me think, "That's steep. Cool."
SDN: Was that your favorite section?
HT: There was one between the ghost towns of Saint Elmo and Hancock. They called it "alpine tunnel." It's no super steep or anything — I think it's over the Colorado Trail or Continental Divide Trail, or both — but it was this lightly used alpine, rolling terrain that was really cool. But Salida is amazing. It's beautiful, it was great, and it's a little lower than here. That was huge.
SDN: What were your goals heading into the race?
HT: I figured the only thing I had control over was my time, and I figured I would be under 30 hours, which I did by 23 seconds. I didn't know what the other women were going to be like, what they would do, but in the back of my mind I thought, "Top-three will be cool." But I still just didn't know what the other runners were like. I could try to compare stats online, but I was right in the middle of the field there so I wasn't sure what would be realistic. Under 30 was the real goal. I hit it, and barely. And of course to finish uninjured — just don't do anything stupid.
SDN: Is this your biggest ultra win?
HT: I don't think I've won anything else, so yeah (laughs). There was one spot with an out-and-back on the course and that was when I saw the other women, so I knew where I was. The aid-station people started getting really excited, saying, "We've been waiting for you!" I was thinking, "What's wrong?" but then they told me I was the first woman.
SDN: You were in the lead most of the race. Did you think about that much, about being in first?
HT: There was one section when I felt pretty bad, with less than 20 miles. I knew I'd held it so long and didn't want to give it up, but I tried not to think about it too much. But as it got closer to the end, I was a little more attached to it. The biggest motivation, even with hours to go, was when I thought, "I have four hours until 30 hours." I started thinking, "I need to drop my average mile by 12 seconds, or 15 seconds." The under-30 thing really kept me moving. My math skills at 25-and-a-half hours weren't great, but I was working on it.
SDN: So what comes now for the rest of summer?
HT: It's going to be a lot of training with kids and informal friend adventures, just going out to see what we like.