Friday, July 10…..6:00 AM…..Siverton, Colorado…..A 100 mile counter-clockwise loop through the back country of the San Juan Mountains…..The old mining towns of Silverton, Lake City, Ouray, Telluride and Ophir…..Approximately 33,000 feet of total elevation gain…..It is one of the toughest 100-milers around, and it is the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run. In the 2008 edition of Hardrock, Kyle Skaggs became the first runner to finish the event in under 24 hours (23:23), winning by nearly 6 and a half hours. Diana Finkel was the first female finisher (6th overall) in 31:09. 70 percent of the 141 starters (98) would finish this grueling event. Make no mistake about it, this is one tough event. The finishing rate is mind-numbingly low (typically in the 50 and 60 percents). In fact, in its history, 1,538 runners have toed the starting line at Hardrock, and a mere 879 have managed to cross the finish line – 57.1 percent.
The Hardrock course is designed to “bring the runners into the four major mining centers of the San Juan Mountains (Silverton, Lake City, Ouray, and Telluride) while staying as much as possible on trails and abandoned roads originally created by the miners to give the participant the maximum feeling of wilderness” and offers a “graduate level challenge for endurance runs”. This is a dangerous course. Runners must contend with not only altitude, steepness, and remoteness, but also with mild rock climbing (hands required), wading through ice cold streams, struggles through snow (which may be rock hard and slick, or so soft that you sink to your knees and above), cliff crossings where a fall could result in a 300 foot plunge, and the use of fixed ropes as handrails.
Weather has always been a key factor at Hardrock, and can be as formidable as the terrain, remoteness and high altitude. It is the race director’s “general opinion that the first fatality we may have will be either from hypothermia or lightning.” Runners should be prepared for snow, ice, and even a monsoon. You just have to love a race that puts this in its runner’s manual :
“The Colorado Mountain Club advises climbers in the Colorado mountains to be off the peaks by noon. Since this may not fit in with your position on the course, you must use extreme caution. Always remember that the time limit is 48 hours. The long time limit is not only a recognition of the difficult terrain, but also allows runners to wait out thunderstorms or other life-threatening weather. You can hunker down in a valley for 2-4 hours and still finish; but, if you get fried by lightning your running career may end on the spot. Discretion is the better part of valor. Take comfort in the fact that these thunderstorms are widespread. If you are pinned down, chances are that other runners are too. Use the time wisely – eat, drink, stay warm, and rest.”
There are several other ultra events taking place this weekend, including the following (which is just a small sampling of your ultra options) :
Devil’s Backbone 50 Mile (July 11 in Bozeman, Montana) – This is called a “graduate level run” (yes, like Hardrock). It is almost entirely unsupported and unmarked, and is not recommended as a first 50-miler. There are many cairns and you primarily stay on the ridge but with no ribbon it is still possible to get well off course. The “graduate” part is due to the requirement to carry what you need for 5 – 9 hours of running and once out on the course there is no easy way out until the turnaround. Runners are almost always above 9,500 feet on a rocky (but beautiful) trail. The course starts and finishes at the Hyalite Creek Trailhead and is an out-and-ba
ck on 100% trails with one significant climb to 10,300 feet, and multiple short steep climbs totaling 11,400 feet. Though the climb is not huge, it is deceptively hard due to elevation and sometimes rocky trails. The course is not be marked except by Forest Service blazes and cairns . It is generally well-worn except in meadows. There are streams multiple times in the first (and last) 7 miles, a murky lake at 11 miles (and 39 miles), and a very small spring a quarter mile later, and lots of snow to put in your water bottle – but bring a filter. The cutoff is 9 hours at the turn-around cabin. Exposure is extreme in case of a thunderstorm. Possibility of elk, goats, mountain lions and bears (all seen in past few years).
Dances with Dirt – Devlils Lake 50 Mile and 50K Ultras (July 11 in Baraboo, Wisconsin) – “Weak, wimpy, treadmill running pansies who are afraid to get some dirt in their shorts need not apply…..expect to be scratched, muddied and bruised…..expect a day that leaves you knowing you are fully alive, awake and crankin’ on all cylinders…..expect insanity, stupidity and nirvana.”
Rattlesnake Trail 50k (July 11 in Charleston, WV) – This one-loop course features 5,000 feet of climbing (10 climbs) and is run on 80% trail, 15% dirt road, and 5% asphalt. The trails are rocky and typically (unless it rains) dry. Runners can expect sticks, bugs, snakes, deer, bear and Big Foot.
That will do it for this week. Stop by next Wednesday for a look at a few of the events on tap for the weekend of July 18 and 19, including the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run.