Adam Campbell was on top of the highest point of the Hardrock 100 course when he was struck.
Think ultrarunners are abnormally tough or crazy? Canadian runner Adam Campbell was struck by lightning during the Hardrock 100 trail running race in Silverton, Colo., late Friday night, but he kept on running and finished the race in third place about 12 hours later.
A thunderstorm began raging in the early evening on Friday just after some the race’s top runners were passing through the 60-mile aid station near the historic mining settlement ghost town of Animas Forks in the backcountry of the San Juan Mountains. Campbell, 35, and his pacer, Aaron Heidt, left the aid station ahead of the rain, but were caught in it as they approached the highest point on the course, 14,058-foot Handies Peak. They had debated whether to go over the peak moments before when a sheet of lightning hit the mountain. But they were already amid exposed terrain and decided to make a run for it. Another sheet of lightning struck just as they reached the top.
Campbell is an accomplished marathon runner and trail ultrarunner who has raced all over the world. This was his first attempt at running Hardrock, considered by many to be one of the hardest races in North America.
“There’s nothing up there, no place to hide, no rocks, no trees, nothing,” said Campbell, who works as an attorney in Calgary. “We really didn’t have much of a choice. We wanted to get over the peak as soon as we could and get out of there.”
Campbell and Heidt said they immediately hit the ground when the lightning struck, screamed a few profanities, realized they were OK and ran as fast as they could off the peak. Campbell said the lightning blast fried his headlamp. Heidt said he felt a twinge of electricity hit the back of his head, but otherwise they two survived unscathed.
“The funny thing is that he didn’t speak French before the lightning struck,” Heidt said jokingly.
With an average elevation over 11,000 feet and a high point of 14,000 feet, Hardrock is considered the most challenging trail running race in the U.S., one that compares favorably with some of the world’s most grueling races. The course is a 100.5-mile loop that links four historic Colorado mining towns (Silverton, Telluride, Ouray and Lake City) and numerous backcountry mountain peaks and passes. It has a cumulative vertical gain of 33,992 feet of climbing and 33,992 feet of descending for a total elevation change of 67,984 feet.
Although he admitted to struggling for a while in the middle of the night during massive rainstorms, Campbell recovered and ran strong over the final 15 miles to finish in third place in 25 hours, 56 minutes and 36 seconds. After kissing the massive rock at the finish line, he promptly drank part of a beer and poured the rest over his head.
“Wow, that was a hard race,” he said. “That course is legit—even without the lightning.”
It wasn’t just Campbell who decided not to wait out the rain below Handies Peak. Numerous other runners left the aid station for the top of the peak as the thunderstorm was raging.
“We went up right when it started,” said Darcy Piceu, 39, of Boulder, Colo., the women’s champion for the third straight year in 29:49:58. “There were others out there and some were hiding for cover. It was thundering and lightning all around with lots of rain. I got totally soaked.”
Jason Koop, 35, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was caught in the rainstorm and was reportedly suffering from hypothermia while resting in a camper’s tent near Handies Peak. He eventually continued on through two more aid stations before dropping out of the race at mile 72.
The rain continued for several hours into the middle of the night and runners continued going up and over Handies Peak.
“The amazing thing is that just before the storm started, we were looking at the most amazing sunset and mountain scenery I have ever seen,” Campbell said. “The light was just amazing as the sun was going down. But then the thunder began and we knew it was about to get ugly.”