On the weekend of July 14, 2023, a story of tremendous endurance unfolded in Colorado’s Sawatch Mountains, where David Hedges set a new men’s supported fastest known time (FKT) of 39 hours, six minutes, and 40 seconds on the Nolan’s 14 route.
The route connects 14 mountains of 14,000 feet or more, takes in a total elevation gain in the region of 45,000 feet, and covers some 95 miles. Hedges traveled northbound on the route, from the Blank’s Cabin Trailhead to the Fish Hatchery Trailhead.
Hedges’s benchmark knocks seven hours and 35 minutes off the previous men’s supported record of 46 hours and 41 minutes, held by Alex Nichols since 2018.
The Nolan’s 14 is a route that has been on 25-year-old Hedges’s radar for his entire adult life. He said: “I first heard about Nolan’s 14 about 10 years ago while reading Anton Krupicka’s blog. I was a high schooler in Chicago, Illinois, at the time.”
In 2016, Hedges moved to Colorado for university, where he attended Colorado College and got to know former Nolan’s 14 men’s supported FKT holder Alex Nichols, who was the assistant cross-country coach at the time. When Nichols completed the Nolan’s 14 in 2018, Hedges joined him for what was meant to be a short stint — but ended up covering almost half of the route with Nichols. He said:
“I ran the nine miles in on Pine Creek Trail to meet him between Mounts Harvard and Oxford, giving him snacks to fuel him through his second night. Both our watches and phones died during that night and by the time we met Alex’s wife, maddy, in Winfield and Alex regained some pep, I had no idea where I was really and had no way of getting back to my car … So I continued with Alex on through the next day.” Hedges was inspired by Nichols’s brave finish, and said:
“How, after 40 hours and so much suffering, could Alex be moving like that? Crazy. That moment was really powerful, it absolutely changed my life … I became obsessed with Nolan’s and, later that summer and the next, scouted the course a good amount and did a boatload of training in the mountains, huge off-trail link-ups day after day.”
This past weekend, the seed that was sewn all those years ago grew to fruition, with Hedges setting a superb men’s supported FKT on the route that means so much to him. About his build-up, he recounted:
“I drove over here, stayed with Alex and Maddy for a couple of days, and then got to training at the beginning of June. I camped under the Sawatch Mountains for five weeks starting the first Monday of June. Since [Ultra-Trail] snowdonia [by UTMB 100 Mile] was just eight weeks ago, I didn’t need to do any long, long runs. So, I did mostly half days and just a couple of nearly full days out on the route. I trained a month of 30 to 35 hours moving time up there, getting on the line all but one day when I just ran up the 13ers near Hope Pass. It was cold and stormy the first half of the month and there was a lot of snow. I tried to hit everything at least twice this time around, though I didn’t quite cover every single mile in training.”
Hedges settled on the date of July 14 for the attempt, but with the Hardrock 100 also taking place in Colorado the same weekend and taking from his pool of possible pacers and helpers, he spent much of the week before trying to scrape together a crew. Fortunately, friends and local runners came good in the end. Hedges said:
“I ran seven peaks alone, the majority of it timewise alone. henry [Harris] joined me for Mounts Yale, Columbia, and Harvard. I met Sean [Van Horn] at the top of Mount Oxford and we ran up Mount Belford together. And then jack [Kuenzle] did Elbert Peak and Mount Massive with me. I was crewed at Alpine, Avalanche Trailhead, Winfield (got my stuff out of Jack’s truck as he was sleeping in the back, haha), and Colorado Highway 82.”
Besides some foot issues, Hedges had a relatively smooth run, saying:
“I stayed fairly even keeled the whole time. I ran out of food and fluids on Mount Princeton and got very overheated there. I struggled my way up Mount Yale as a result, but was able to revive myself with Henry’s help. I had a lot of issues with footwear … my feet were destroyed by the time I got to Winfield. La Plata Peak could’ve gone faster if I wasn’t hobbling around with obliterated trotters.”
About the highlight of the whole adventure, he said:
“The most special moment was summiting Mount Massive with Jack and Nikki [LaRochelle.] We were greeted by a pack of goats, and it was beautiful. We jogged down in high spirits and though I didn’t break 39 hours, I did get a nice stride going on those final trail miles to the Fish Hatchery Trailhead. There, Nikki’s mom greeted us with a warm smile, bubbly waters, and an 18-ounce clamshell of blueberries. She drove Jack and I back to Highway 82 where we picked up his truck from him and went to High Mountain Pies in Leadville, where we both enjoyed large pizzas and some banter.”