Race Recap: Harding Hustle 15K/50K

When G said he was going to sign up for the Harding Hustle 50K a couple of months ago, I thought “Sweet!” I have really come to love the trail and ultra running community, and truly enjoy crewing and cheering for G at every race. Then he dropped the bomb: Because there was going to be more than 7,000 feet of elevation change during the race, the only crew/spectator access point was the start/finish line. What was I going to do for more than 7 hours in the middle of nowhere? Run the corresponding 15K, of course. My first true trail race!

Signing up was the easy part. Then I started to get nervous as the weeks passed. I’m a tried-and-true road runner, and while I have done trail run/hikes with G, I certainly had never run 9 miles of trails alone. Bonus: This 15K has about 2,400 feet of elevation change – the first 4.5 miles are straight up.

The race started near Lake Forest in Orange County (about an hour northeast of where we live), so we got up early the day of the race to drive to the location where we would take the shuttle bus to the start. There is a 15K, 30K and 50K with staggered start times. G took the 4:45 a.m. shuttle, which left me wondering how to pass the next few hours until my 7:30 a.m. bus left. Luckily, there was Starbucks nearby, so I was able to eat a real breakfast at a normal time and catch up on magazine reading.

Once I got on the shuttle bus things started to feel VERY real. I had my Nathan hydration vest filled with water, Clif Shot Bloks, a couple of GUs, sunscreen stick, etc. We were told in pre-race communication to prepare for very hot weather. I can’t believe how lucky we actually were. It was completely overcast for the 15K and stayed that way until about 90 minutes before the last 50K runners finished. There were only about 15 of us running the 15K, and at 9 a.m. we took off – straight up.

Harding Hustle 15K Elevation Profile
15K Course

 Start—Laurel Springs (0 – 4.5)

I’m not going to lie: the 1,200 feet of climbing straight up in the first 4.5 miles was the toughest challenge I’ve ever faced in the best way. I’m used to a fairly flat surface and I’m comfortable in that element. And I’m used to running all trails with G. He’s the one constantly pushing me and encouraging me. Though I felt strong the entire way up, I certainly respect the difference in road vs. trail races.

I made sure to eat 2 Clif Shot Bloks every mile and take in as much water as I could to stay ahead of my hydration in case it did get hot. Luckily, that never happened and I made it to the turnaround aid station in about 1:15. I had a mini Snickers bar, a potato with salt and electrolyte drink and then turned to head back down. Two things got me to this point: 1) knowing G was somewhere out there and had been for more than 4 hours already, and 2) the incredible views on the way up.

Harding Hustle 15K
Gorgeous views from Mile 4.5!

Laurel Springs – Finish (4.5 – 9)

I was elated I made it through what I presumed was the toughest part of the race (and overall, it was). But 4.5 miles of straight downhill running, and the risk that poses for potential quad and knee injuries, is nothing to take lightly. G had coached me to hold back some on the downhill portion because that was the recovery part of the race and because I have future road racing goals that I don’t want to jeopardize. So I held back as much as possible, ate my bloks at every mile and sipped my water.

At Mile 7 I realized I was on pace to finish under 2:15, and decided to kick it up a notch to ensure that happened. I have never been so happy to see a finish line, and crossed it in 2:13:33! The biggest takeaways for me were that trail running is a lot of fun (even when it’s very hard) and that I am much tougher than I give myself credit for. I will definitely be tackling another one before the end of the year.


—G’s 50K Recap—

Since putting my DNF at the San Diego 100 behind me, I began looking for my next race and was glad to score one of the last (if not THE LAST) entry into the Harding Hustle 50K. Constant climbing during races has always been an area I need to improve on, so I decided what better way to come back to the trails than a race with 7K of gain?

Harding Hustle 50K Elevation Profile
50K Course

Start – Laurel Springs (0 – 4.5)

At 6:20 roughly 70 runners took off and began their climb. And by climb … I mean, climb. The first 16 miles of this race are uphill and ran on fire road. I started power hiking up, but quickly remembered I want to use this race to get better not just get by, so I settled into a slow jog and began the ascent.

 Laurel Springs – Maple Springs (4.5 – 9.1)

I ran through Laurel Springs aid station at about 7:40 and was feeling great, once I left runners were spread out and no one else was even in site.

View above the clouds Harding Hustle 50K
Above the cloud line

 Maple Springs – Modjeska Base (9.1 – 11.7)

At 5,300 feet, we had already climbed pretty high from the start (1,400 feet). I did a great job managing my nutrition/hydration and was feeling great. We were lucking out on the weather, too!

 Modjeska Base – Santiago (11.7 – 15.6)

The top of the course is where things got just plain cruel. First you summit Modjeska Peak, then you run down, over, and summit Santiago Peak … THEN you go BACK and summit Modjeska Peak. Again. Though I was physically feeling good, mentally this part of the course was a real killer. I just kept telling myself “What goes up, must come down!”

Santiago Peak Harding Hustle 50K
Santiago Peak

Santiago – Modjeska Base (15.6 – 19.5)

After a brief refuel at Modjeska Base, I grabbed some M&Ms and a fun-size Pay Day and started the long, downhill return.

Modjeska Base – Maple Springs (19.5 – 22)

Although I was running the downhills hard, I was cognizant not to overdo it and risk injury.

Maple Springs – Laurel Springs (22 – 26.5)        

The weather had been great all day, the sun finally decided to show itself, and, wow, if that was any indicator on how the weather usually is during this run – it’s indeed a hot one. I stopped at Laurel Springs just long enough to dip my hat in water, put ice in my bottles and bring it on home.

Laurel Springs – Finish (26.5 – 31)

These were my strongest miles of the day (I know, I know steep downhill followed by a relatively conservative run? Shocker right?) and I was able to bring it home in 7:42.

All in all a great “welcome back” race that helped give me back the confidence that the SD100 had momentarily taken away. In addition to a renewed sense of confidence, I used this run to try out several new things, most notably a new pair of Hoka One One’s – the Stinson ATR. A few quick comments on them:

  • Others complain about their quick-lace system – I personally love it, and found it very helpful in minimizing time tying shoes or dealing with laces during my run.
  • They are a bit heavier but I got used to that quickly.
  • The amount of cushioning is amazing – couple that with the Meta-Rocker and you’ve got one smooth ride.

It should be noted that I’m not loyal to any one particular brand, but, as a bigger runner who likes to log a lot of miles on the trails, I have gravitated toward more of a “maximalist” style of shoe. I’ve run in both Altra Olympus and now the Stinson’s and must say each will continue to have a place in my shoe running arsenal.

Perhaps best part of the day, though, was knowing that we had both accomplished something big today. I was able to get back in my groove, and C was able to experience her first trail race – which she loved!

Take care,


Harding Hustle
Proud finishers


12 thoughts on “Race Recap: Harding Hustle 15K/50K

  1. Great job on accomplishing your first trail run! Mine is coming up in October. I signed up for the 20-mile but would love to tackle the 50k. Yours sounds pretty brutal with the straight up and down. How did your quads feel after?


    1. Thanks, Bryan! I definitely think I will try to do a 50K yet this year now that my interest has been piqued. The quads were not too bad the day-of, but were pretty sore the next day. I foam rolled the day after to stretch them out a bit. Good luck on your 20-miler!


  2. Congrats, you two! Wow, sounds like both races were tough but gratifying. Amazing accomplishments for both of you! Way to go. Loved reading the recap!!


  3. Excellent post! I am running my first 50k in October, so I look forward to getting some pointers from your posts. The elevation change from that race is 4000 feet. Which i thought was pretty bad, until I read your post. Good job to the both of you.


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