Luck, Longevity and Jeff List’s Love of the ‘Brutal Benchmark’ that is Hardrock

Jeff List didn’t spend Hardrock lottery day with his eyes glued to Twitter.

Instead, on Saturday, Dec. 3, while the social media feed informed the world exactly who among the nearly 2,000 entrants into the Hardrock 100 lottery had been selected for 145 spots at the starting line, List was doing what Hardrock veterans do best – running long miles on rugged trails.

Had List been tracking Twitter, the six-time Hardrock finisher would have been the first runner to find out he had a spot in the 2017 race, which will begin July 14 in Silverton, Colo. Instead, he was 32 miles into a 40-mile run at the Trail Animals Running Club’s annual Fells Winter Ultra at the Middlesex Fells Reservation in Stoneham, Mass.

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Jeff List of East Falmouth, Mass., spent Hardrock lottery day running the 40-mile race at the TARC Fells Winter Ultra. Upon completing the race, List learned that he had been selected to run the Hardrock 100 for the seventh time. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

“I do get a little nervous now that there’s no guarantee that all vets will get in off the waitlist, but really not very nervous because I’ll be going out there and having a great time every year regardless,” List said. “It’s worked out that the TARC Winter Fells race typically falls on lottery day, and that’s one of the reasons I run it – so I’m not following every Hardrock tweet as the lottery progresses.”

List’s name was drawn as he departed the start/finish aid station to begin his final eight-mile loop of the Skyline Trail. Shortly after List finished that loop, Fells Winter Ultra race director Jeff LeBlanc approached him.

“Jeff LeBlanc gave me the good news right after Fells this year, and that made for a great finish!” List said.

List was the first of 33 Hardrock “veterans” – lottery entrants with five or more Hardrock finishes – selected for the event. A total of 43 veterans had applied for a spot in the 2017 race. List was the only Massachusetts applicant in the veteran drawing. The resident of East Falmouth also was the lone Bay State resident to get into the race. Two Massachusetts residents, Dima Feinhaus of Waban and Christopher Agbay of Jefferson, were in the “everyone else” category for runners who have finished Hardrock between one and four times. Neither had their names drawn for one of the 67 spots allocated to that group. Finally, 22 Massachusetts residents were among 1,726 runners in the “never started” drawing from which 45 entrants were pulled. None of the 22 was selected, although a runner with local ties was among the “never started” who will get his first crack at Hardrock in 2017. David Huss, who moved from Winchester, Mass., to Seattle, Wash., earlier this year, was the 11th name drawn in the “never started” category.

Now that he’s officially in the Hardrock field for 2017, List can begin preparing in earnest for a race that has become a second home to him.

PURSUING HARDROCK

List first learned about Hardrock in 2005, around the time he began running ultras. Participating in the grueling race in the Rocky Mountains instantly grabbed hold of his imagination. The panoramic landscape, the climbs above 14,000 feet, the snow-capped peaks … all of it combined to create a smorgasbord of temptation.

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Jeff List spends most Hardrock lottery days running the TARC Fells Winter Ultra. He did that again on Dec. 3, 2016. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

“Certainly it was mainly the pictures of the amazing scenery that drew me in,” List recalled. “But also the concept of the race as a single 100-mile loop through high mountain, with an ethos of self-sufficiency that added to the appeal.”

List was determined to run Hardrock, and he committed to putting in the work that would earn him the opportunity to apply for entry. During the course of two years he built up his mileage base, gained more experience running ultras, and targeted a Hardrock qualifier: the 2007 Wasatch Front 100 – a mountain race with more than 26,000 feet of vertical gain and a 36-hour time limit. He completed Wasatch in 31:37:20, and threw his name in the Hardrock lottery as soon as it opened. List wasn’t selected for the 2008 Hardrock, however a year later his name was drawn for the first time.

As darkness was falling on the evening of Saturday, July 11, 2009, List covered the final miles back into Silverton and “kissed the rock” to officially finish Hardrock for the first time in 38:54:43. Then 50 years old, List was 51st out of 104 runners to finish within the 48-hour time limit that year.

List was officially a “Hardrocker.” The grueling course had carved its way into his heart. Even more impactful was the Hardrock community that captured a piece of his soul. The place and the people were special. He had to come back.

“It was no longer just the beautiful mountains, or the amazing course; it was the people,” List noted. “In the very first few hours after I flew into Durango, and drove directly up to 11,000 feet to camp and start my acclimation, I met three veteran Hardrockers who were very welcoming and who are still my good friends to this day. I’ve also had the good fortune to stay at the Avon, an old vacant hotel in Silverton that the owner only opens once a year for Hardrockers.

“Experiencing the community there has been equally important to me as the race itself. Hardrock is different than most races – you almost have to come early to acclimate, and the weeks before Hardrock are the highlight of the year. In the couple years I did not get into Hardrock, I still went out there, and these were some of the best trips of all (no tension, no tapering, all fun).”

LOTTERY LUCK

Most runners who dream of taking part in Hardrock will never get in. That’s a simple reality for a race where thousands apply and around 150 get to toe the starting line.

“The lottery has been very brutal to some people, and that is the nature of random chance,” List noted.

Some of that frustration was demonstrated this year by a former Hardrock finisher who alleged that the lottery was conducted illegally. A detailed account of those allegations was reported by TrailRunner Magazine. The race organizers have pushed back against the allegations, and many Hardrock runners and longtime volunteers have dismissed those allegations as unfounded or little more than a case of sour grapes.

List has enjoyed remarkable success in the Hardrock lottery. He was fortunate to have his name drawn on his second try, and he didn’t have to wait very long to run the race a second time – or a third, or more. List has entered the lottery 10 straight years, and 2017 will be his seventh trip to the starting line – that’s a 70 percent success rate on getting selected.

List chalks up his success in the lottery to “pure dumb luck,” and he acknowledged the frustration other runners may feel when their name isn’t drawn year after year.

PROLONGING YOUTH

Luck certainly plays a part in List’s long-term presence at Hardrock. His success on the course, however – six finishes in six tries (2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016) – can be attributed to his passion to explore the wilderness and a deep desire to push off the effects of aging for as long as possible.

List can’t simulate the effects of altitude without heading to Colorado a few weeks early to prepare for Hardrock. He can simulate the terrain, however. Living and training in New England gives List access to plenty of mountains, rugged terrain, steep climbs, and opportunities for long days and nights in the wilderness. He takes full advantage of those resources to prepare his legs and his mind for Hardrock.

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For Jeff List (pictured at the 2016 Fells Winter Ultra), part of the appeal of Hardrock is that it sets a “brutal benchmark” for fitness as he gets older. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

“It’s all about total elevation gain and the long ‘runs,’ which are more like fast mountain hikes, rather than mileage,” List said. “I don’t care, or even track, how many miles I put in per week, but there are two things I must do prior to Hardrock. First, I set up a plan for how many feet of vertical gain per week I will do in the build-up to Hardrock, generally peaking at around 20,000 to 25,000 feet per week three weeks before Hardrock. One of the prime training runs is the informal fatass event I started, ‘Adams Vertical Day,’ in which participants log as much gain as they can on Mt. Adams, New Hampshire in 12 hours. The second component are very long runs. I don’t think it’s so important to be logging high weekly mileage as long as you can get in some runs of 15-20 hours over mountainous terrain. I make sure to include at least one long run overnight with no sleep, to simulate what I’ll be dealing with at Hardrock.”

List looks to the White Mountains for some of his best training days and nights to prepare for Hardrock. He counts the Hut Traverse and Double Presi Traverse among his favorite long runs.

Major vertical weeks, sleepless nights on the trail and epic adventures in the Whites are the sort of rigorous preparation than will garner the respect of the most successful and committed ultrarunners, yet List is quick to point out “that my training plan only prepares me to hopefully finish Hardrock, not to be competitive in any way.”

List isn’t worried about competing with the likes of Spaniard Kilian Jornet, the three-time defending champion, or some of the sport’s other young guns in their 20s and 30s. They have their own standards of excellence as modern day mountain goats who dash up and down the jagged peaks and slippery scree slopes faster than anyone in history.

List’s graying hair and driver’s license may reveal a man in his mid-50s, but his legs certainly don’t. He may not be a front-runner at Hardrock, but he still has plenty of mountain goat left in him, too, and he plans to keep it that way.

Longevity is List’s motivator. Hardrock is more than a race he loves; it’s a standard for living that he strives to maintain. At the end of the day, that’s a big part of why List keeps throwing his name back into the Hardrock lottery, embracing the challenge each time his name is drawn, and putting in the work to get ready.

It’s why he’ll toe the starting line again in July, endure the pain and suffering that the course will inevitably unleash upon him, and hopefully experience the ecstasy of completing the course and kissing the rock once again.

It’s why he’ll surely throw his name into the lottery again next year, and the year after that.

“I’ll just keep doing it as long as I’m fortunate enough to be physically able, and as long as the lottery lets me in,” he said. “One of my motivations to continue is that Hardrock is a tremendous motivator to maintain fitness, and a brutal benchmark on whether it’s still there.

“At 57, every year that I can continue to finish Hardrock is an amazing gift. The Hardrock level of fitness also gives me the ability to explore the wilderness in other places in a way that would normally not be possible, for example my now four-years-and-counting project to complete a bushwhacking circumnavigation of Mt. Olympus in Olympic National Park.”

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4 thoughts on “Luck, Longevity and Jeff List’s Love of the ‘Brutal Benchmark’ that is Hardrock”

  1. Another entertaining and articulate piece. Jeff is a friend and mentor who gave unadulterated advice to me prior to my first of two Hardrocks. The second I had the privledge of running with Jeff for many hours and through an unforgiving summer thunderstorm. He’s one of TARC’s finest.

    Like

  2. Great piece! Very well done! Portrays the essence of Hardrock and Jeff. Don’t let his self deprecating manner fool you. He is as tough as they come!

    Like

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