I’ve already spent a good deal of time discussing my experience pacing Nick at Hardrock nearly two weeks ago and yes, Nick’s WS100/HR100 double-whammy is an accomplishment certainly worthy of additional praise. But I want to take this opportunity to recognize another Hardrocker who had an equally (if not more) impressive performance.
I first met this individual at the Boulder Basic Marathon back in October, and we’ve kindled a solid friendship during the months since. On several occasions I’ve driven to Fort Collins for a change in trails and scenery, and he graciously dragged my ass all over Horsetooth Mountain and Lory State Park. Likewise, he’s made a few trips to Boulder, crashing the couch in my living room between Montrail photo shoots.
I speak of course of Dakota Jones — perhaps ultrarunning’s most accomplished athlete at his age. True, he can’t legally buy me a beer yet, but don’t let that fool you. This 20 year old has patience, perseverence, wisdom and maturity well beyond his years. Hardrock is a perfect example.
A week or two before the race I was out on a run with a few friends when our ambling conversation turned to Hardrock predictions. Who will win? Who will blow up? I placed my imaginary bet on Joe for the victory, deeming Nick too worn out to run a competitive race. I also liked Karl (for his experience) and “that dark horse French guy people keep mentioning,” (by whom I of course meant ultimate race winner Chorier).
“What about Dakota?” my buddy asked?
“I like the kid,” said I, “but he’s young. He’s bound to let confidence get the best of him and go out too hard. He’ll dig himself a hole he can’t climb out of.”
And when Nick and I caught Dakota around mile 45 on the climb up Engineer Pass Rd, I thought I might be witnessing my prophecy first-hand. As we passed, Dakota managed to blurt, like a drunkard slurring his speech, ”Keep it up guys the wheels are comin’ off man…”
“Hang in there Dakota — you look great,” I lied. He did not look great — not at this moment. No, Dakota was in the midst of a rough mental and physical low point. Within a few minutes Nick and I had climbed a few more switchbacks. When I looked back, Dakota appeared to be quickly fading into the alpine basin below us — the San Juans were swallowing him up. Will I see him again or will he drop? Wow, maybe this is it?
Four hours later, Nick spotted a duo emerge from around a bend in Camp Bird Rd — one we had just rounded ourselves not two minutes earlier. “Is that Joe or Dakota?” Nick asked, breaking what had seemed like eternal silence. Puzzled, I whirled around expecting to spot Joe and his pacer bearing down on us. It can’t be Dakota; he fell apart way back there. Lo and behold, there he was, looking strong and accompanied by his pacer, Troy Howard. As we climbed the final stretch into the Governor aid station, Dakota and Troy made up the remaining ground and we all four arrived at once.
When Dakota and Troy took off before us, that was the last I’d see them (except very briefly at Kroger’s Canteen atop Virginius Pass) until the next morning.
I awoke in Silverton at 5:00am Saturday morning and looked at my watch. Shit, gotta get down to the finish before the leaders arrive. I rallied Aaron and Stephen and we hastily made our way to the rock, waiting only a short time before Julien arrived. An update followed regarding second and third place: it was Dakota and Nick, just seven minutes apart through Chapman aid station. After a quick stop at the cafe, we hurried out to the Mineral Creek crossing, just two miles from the finish line, and waited.
Just as the sun rose from the peaks to the east, a figure in a yellow jacket emerged from the willows on the far bank, grabbed the rope spanning the river, and proceeded to pull himself toward us amidst our whoops and cheers. When Dakota stepped onto the near bank, we pointed him in the direction of town, and he quietly took off with a surprisingly strong stride.
We jumped into the car, and raced Dakota to the finish line, arriving just in time to watch his epic journey draw to close. Not only did he rebound from his nadir in Ouray, but he held off Nick through the night, cranked the last two miles from the river, and crossed the line in Silverton in a stellar 27:10, good enough for silver (how fitting), then proceeded to give several interviews appearing as lucid as the rest of us bystanders (who hadn’t just run Hardrock).
I have the good fortune of spending a few days with Dakota during the first week of August, before he takes off for France in preparation for the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. This time, I have absolutely no doubt Dakota will once again wow us all — heck I’d even put some money on it!
One last thing; as I’ve gotten to know him, Dakota has managed to keep one secret very well-hidden… until Hardrock weekend. And that secret is how freaking awesome his parents are. Dakota’s mom and pop were an absolute hoot to hang out with during the race, and being residents of Durango, I hope they don’t mind a visit from me upon my impending relocation.
Keep it up Dakota; you’re looking good!