Transporting us into the heart of the ultra running experience, Howie Stern shares a riveting collection of his favorite 2021 photos. Each image is accompanied by Howie’s perspective on why this moment was so impactful.
Helgi Olafson, 20 miles from the finish of the Moab 240 on his way to completing three 200 milers this year in support of Ankylosing Spondylitis. Helgi, who was diagnosed with AS at the age of 19, embarked on a 2855 mile human powered journey this past year which included biking to the 200 mile events he did in Washington, Idaho and Utah. For him and others, exercise and movement help to lessen the pain and stiffness caused by AS and these movements are like medicine. “I see Ankylosing Spondylitis as a blessing and am thankful to have the opportunity to inspire people. When I race, I’m not just out there trying to cross the finish line for myself, I’m carrying the torch for so many others who suffer from the challenging conditions of AS and arthritis.”
Pam Smith, Desert Solstice. She’s fought through motivational and consistency struggles during the pandemic as well as injury on her way back to racing and, as she puts it, the work to get back to form isn’t sexy, but it’s what you need to do. At DS, she set age group records for 50 miles, 100k, 12 hours and 100 miles. I just loved being able to capture an epic sunset shot of her on a track, since most don’t associate track with scenic beauty. To me, this shot just highlights her inner strength, power and commitment.
Coree Woltering at the Cocodona 250, showing the collective feeling of the entire field of runners after suffering through a brutal first 50k with 10,000′ of climb and only one aid station to offer respite and fluids to overcome the unrelenting Arizona sun and heat. The scene at the Lane Mountain Aid Station at mile 33 was like a triage center. Nearly every runner from first to last was depleted in some way and had epic stories of how they endured the last 22 miles of exposed climbing. Fortunately for the runners, there was only another 220 miles to go!
Sonia Glover, Javelina 100. Sonia, after losing both of her parents in a 14 month span, battling grief and depression, decided to get up off the couch and rekindle her love for running. Her parents had always been major supporters in her running, and she signed up for Javelina as her first 100 mile race in honor of their memory. Supported by her husband and friends, she put forth an amazing effort and we were all waiting for her at the finish as the clock was counting down to the cutoff. As the cutoff came, she was still not in sight. The energy remained as we waited and then a few moments later she appeared running strong with coach Tommy Lunetta. She was so determined to finish, and she did. Upon sitting down after, with her husband and friends tending to her, all she could say way, “I didn’t make the time.” This was one of those moments where you fight tears while looking through the viewfinder.
Terumichi Morishita, Big’s Backyard. The moment you could hear a pin drop. As the 81 hour mark approached, Harvey and Chris had returned and were ready on the line, but there was still no sign of Terumichi. As the clock struck 81, Harvey and Chris took off and we were down to two. Terumichi’s crew were calling for him in the forest. A few minutes later he appeared, fist bumped Laz at the finish line, then hunched down and broke into tears as we all stood in respectful silence. He had tripped while near the end of the loop and had briefly lost consciousness and track of time. Such a heartbreaking end for a warrior and beautiful spirit.
Sarah Morris, Cocodona 250 pacer. After the challenging early miles, the soft and cool beauty of twilight high above the Verde Valley welcomed runners to the second night of Cocodona on the pine covered slopes of Mingus Mountain. The colors, distant ridges, and the gentle splash of light all set a scene of tranquility where the mind can drift as the legs carry the beat forward. I sat around for a while after setting up the shot praying a runner would come while the light was just right. And as luck would have it, Sarah and her runner appeared.
Francois D’Haene during the early miles of the Hardrock Hundred on his way to an overall course record with the stunning backdrop of the Grenadiers as part of his canvas for inspiration. One of the big parts of the Hardrock experience is coming to the San Juans early to explore the course, immersing yourself in the beauty, as well as simple pleasure of long days in the mountains with friends new and old.
Yvonne Naughton, Grant Swamp Pass, pacer for vet Jeff List. Yvonne is a long time Hardrock volunteer at the Burroughs Park Aid Station and is currently sitting at number four on the 2022 Never started wait list (fingers crossed). In the counter clockwise direction, the scramble up the loose scree of Grant Swamp Pass is both the most iconic climb of the race and, for many, the spiritual epicenter of the Hardrock experience. Atop the pass is a plaque memorializing Joel Zucker, a three time Hardrocker who passed away the day after the race in 1998. The big takeaway is that even though you may not be in the race, there are so many ways to still get the Hardrock experience – volunteering, pacing, crewing, one way or another all of these lead to feeling part of the Hardrock family.
Brittany Peterson, finish line, Javelina 100, 2nd place. Reaching for the embrace of her parents who came out to help support and crew her. After feeling a bit burnout after a tough season of racing, Brittany sought to regain the joy of running and the ultra community once again showed what a wonderful force it can be.
Jason Halliday, in a quintessential Hardrock moment, the sheep of Green Mountain amidst the carpet of San Juan tundra and wildflowers. Each summer, thousands of sheep are released into the San Juan high country to graze, led by a single shepard and protected by his guard dogs. I’ve seen them many times over the years from a distance as I’ve run the race, but this year the entire flock decided to cross the course just as the race was getting under way and racers were making their way over the second pass.
Tessa Chesser, Javelina 100. I’ve known Tessa for quite a while and it seems she’s been no stranger to the challenges life and running throws. This year she seemed to find her groove and was fired up for the Javelina Jundred. Through belief in herself, tuning out the noise, and the amazing support of her friends – Tessa ran hard all day, never letting up. When she crossed the finish line, she was completely euphoric that she’d held on to a podium spot in 3rd place, but more importantly, had earned a coveted Golden Ticket into Western States.
Veteran Hardrocker Joel Meredeth showing the heart of a true Hardrocker. Despite having a day where everything was going wrong, he never gave up and pushed through struggle after struggle to reach the finish. Watching him claw his way up Grant Swamp Pass was the stuff of legend and, he admited, if he hadn’t seen myself and fellow ten time Hardrocker Robert Andrulis at the top cheering him on, he may not have made it up to the top, and on to kiss the rock.
Maggie Guterl, getting tapped out at the Barkley Marathons. I’ve watched Maggie throw herself at Barkley for three years now, always putting in the work, always psyched to come out and give it her best. The fact that it is a multiyear project is part of the lore. She came into the 2021 race as fit as ever, confident in her chances to push further into the unknown of being “Out There”. Barkley had other plans, however. The disappointment in her face is apparent, as she was truly bummed once again to fail to complete even a second official loop
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