Shults, who is running his second Hardrock this summer, is nothing, if not to the point.
The Hardroock 100, which starts at 6 a.m. this Friday morning in Silverton, is easily one of the toughest running races in the country; the race climbs 33,000 feet in its 100-mile course from Silverton to Telluride to Ouray, over Handies Mountain, one of Colorado's 14,000-foot-plus mountains, and back to Silverton. Shults, as well as Chuck Kroger, are representing the Telluride area in this year's race.
For Shults the trial of the race is not just foregoing a night of sleep (racers who are on the course for 36 hours or more may find themselves running into a second night) or running and walking for 100 miles; the real difficulty lies in what he calls "the variables." The unpredictable ailments that can set in at any time.
"You can get through a 50 and feel OK," he says. "But in a 100 there is a good chance that you are not going to feel OK. It is getting through that really rough point, whether it is intestinal distress, a sore back, bad hips, your knees go out, and persevering through that. There is a good chance that you'll recover and feel better, but there is always a tough spot." That tough spot is unpredictable, he says. Even the best racers see times that vary wildly or don't finish because an "unpredictable" sets in and gets the best of them.
"It is something that you can't prepare for," Shults says. "To train you can't go out and do a bunch of 100-mile races. Your body just can't deal with that."
In Shults's first Hardrock outing in 2003 he placed a well-earned ninth overall. And though that year a top-ten finish guaranteed a runner a spot in the next year's race (the number of spots is limited to 126), in 2004 the rules changed: a runner had to have finished in the top five to be guaranteed a spot. Though Shults entered the lottery he did not win a spot. This year Shults entered the Hardrock lottery again and garnered a place at the starting line.
To assist his effort Shults has organized a support crew of four friends: Mike Volk who will meet him at aid stations during the first 50 miles, and three pacers, Rhonda Claridge, John Humphries and Ali Palmer, who will run with him during the grueling last 50 miles. The crew will coordinate shuttling Shults's truck, which will be packed with food, energy bars, energy drinks, as well as extra clothes, two extra pairs of shoes (including one pair "that is super big in case my feet swell"), batteries and headlamps, even lawn chairs and towels. Shults has asked his crew to "order a pizza in Telluirde, large, cheese, no red pepper, no meat." He has also instructed his crew: "Do not let me hang out too long."
While his main goal is to finish the race (Shults says it is his last Hardrock, at least for a while), he also hopes to use the race to raise money for the dZi Foundation, a non profit group based in Ridgway that serves Himalayan mountain communities in education, health, culture and welfare. The foundation supports a number of programs, including the Friendship House, a safe home in Kathmandu for at-risk girls. Young Nepali girls who are at-risk of being sold for child labor, as temple prostitues, or into the Indian sex trade, find refuge and support at the Friendship House. The House focuses on the health and education of the girls.
Hoping to bring a sense of giving to the race, besides a simple "I did it," Shults hopes to raise enough to support two girls for one year, about $2,600. The program spends $1,300 to support one girl for one year. Shults is asking donors to sponsor him for each mile of the race that he completes; he hopes sponsors will consider a pledge of 25 cents to 50 cents or more for each mile he runs.
"The dZi foundation is local and the money is well targeted," Shults says when asked why he chose to support the organization. "A large percentage of the money gets to people on the ground. Also, we live in a mountain community and the foundation serves people in mountain communities."
Shults says he is not nervous about the race. "Stress takes a lot of energy. I'm trying to be calm and get into the Zen of it," he says.
"Nothing will bother me," Shults says with a grin.
To sponsor Shults's race, call him at 970/729-0068 or his wife Ali Palmer at 970/729-3331.